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Thursday, 22 April 1915

Mr MAHON - Then all those newspaper complaints are unfounded?

Mr Mcwilliams - I wish we had a few like him in the Territory.

Mr MAHON - Perhaps I had better put it that his success has not been so clearly manifested as some of the anticipations held out concerning him led us to expect it would be. But irrigation in a small and compact territory is quite a different proposition to that which faces a man in a great empire like the Northern Territory. There you have not only a spacious territory, but also diferent degrees of rainfall, and an infinite variety of conditions. I know the irrigation area is comparatively limited. However, the suggestion is not altogether outside the realms of practicability, and no doubt we should benefit if we could obtain the advice of men of eminence and experience in regard to it. The honorable member for Echuca seems to think that the development of a policy for the Northern Territory is a simple matter. He asks for it as one might ask a draper in a shop for a waistcoat. To formulate a long-sighted policy for such an extensive country as this, and to deal with the varying conditions which have to be faced, is not a matter for a few weeks, but one for very mature consideration, after consultation with experts and the examination of experiments made in other countries. It is unreasonable to expect a Minister, as soon as he takes up the administration of the Department of External Affairs, to discover a new policy for the Northern Territory. He has not a clean sheet on which to work. He has to consider the policy of his predecessors and the position arising out of that policy. To put into operation a new policy would be to undo immediately some of the acts of previous Ministers, regardless of whether or not they had reached their culmination, and since they are experimental they must be carried to a finish before it can be determined whether or not they are successful. As I have already said, this debate is interesting, although not very novel in its developments. It reminds me a good deal of the problems of my early school days, and especially those algebraic conundrums. It sometimes happened that, if pursued far enough, the factors cancelled each other, and that ultimately zero appeared as the result. Very many of the arguments adduced during this debate by honorable members on one side have been effectively answered by honorable members on the other. The honorable member for Grey, for instance, pins his faith to the construction of a railway along the telegraph line from north to south.

Mr Poynton - I spoke of a north to south railway, but said nothing about the telegraph line.

Mr MAHON - The honorable member advocated the construction of a line running north and south in the vicinity of the telegraph line. On the other hand, the honorable member for Echuca and the right honorable member for Swan, whose cyclonic eloquence we have appreciated very much to-night, favour a railway from the Katherine making a detour towards the Queensland border.

Mr Poynton -Into Queensland.

Mr MAHON - Not into Queensland, since the Commonwealth has no power to enter that State for railway construction purposes; but, as I said, to the Queensland border, leaving the State Government to determine whether it is to their interest to extend their line from Cloncurry to the border. From the point of view of the right honorable member for Swan, I am not sure that this is not the best expedient for bringing about on the part of the outside world a more rapid acquaintance with the Northern Territory. In discussing these various projected railways, we must not overlook the fact that we have not unlimited funds, and that we have neither the men nor the plant available to construct the whole of them simultaneously. Before entering upon a large enterprise such as the building of a railway from Oodnadatta to the Katherine, we should complete the east to west railway.

Mr Poynton - The West, of course, must come in !

Mr MAHON - Surely the honorable member does not favour the hanging up of the line now being constructed to Western Australia, and which is being laid down fromboth ends at the rate of from 1 mile to1½ miles per day.

Mr Poynton - I understood that the Minister was advocating the construction of a line from the Katherine to the Queensland border before building the north to south line.

Mr MAHON - No. The right honorable member for Swan said that in order to let light into the Northern Territory - in other words, to bring the people outside into more intimate acquaintance with the Northern Territory - a line from the Katherine to the Queensland border should be built, and I expressed the opinion that from that point of view his project appeared to be more feasible than that of constructing a railway running from north to south.

Mr Poynton - But does the Minister favour a line to the Queensland border as against the north-south line?

Mr MAHON - I have expressed no opinion on the subject, because I have not yet had an opportunity to consult all the documents necessary to enable me to arrive at a conclusion. I believe, however, that, as the honorable member for Grey has said, there is a belt of country of very great value from a pastoral point of view further on than Oodnadatta - that after passing through a barren tract the traveller comes upon a very fertile country enjoying a good rainfall.

Mr Poynton - That may he said of the southern portion of the Barclay Tableland, extending right down to Alice Springs. That country would not be touched by a line going to Camooweal.

Sir John Forrest - It would.

Mr MAHON - Setting aside for a moment the question of which route should be followed, I should like the Committee to consider what effect an immediate extension of the present railway to Oodnadatta would have upon the settlement of the Territory. Whilst the honorable member for Grey was speaking, I inquired what class of settler he expected would take up land there. The honorable member was not very explicit in his reply.

Mr Poynton - I said that it would be taken up by graziers.

Mr MAHON - Then we should not have much use for our railway.

Mr Poynton - There is room for many millions of sheep there.

Mr MAHON - There is probably room for the raising of millions of sheep along the present line to Oodnadatta, yet, as the honorable member knows, that railway has proved a veritable sink in relation to Commonwealth expenditure.

Mr Poynton - Because it stops at nowhere.

Mr MAHON - There would have to be a terminal point for the railway which the honorable member favours. If the construction of a line from north to south would not facilitate the introduction of closer settlement - if it would not lead to such an increase of population as would make it a payable line- then, in existing' circumstances, it is a very doubtful proposition. On the other hand, I am quite satisfied that this Territory will have to be developed largely in the first instance, by pastoralists, and by the opening up of new mining areas. I pin my faith to those two factors rather than to the experimental plots that have been settled along the Daly River. Our experience teaches us that greater care than has hitherto been shown will have to be displayed iri selecting settlers for the Territory.

Sir John Forrest - What became of the 500 cows v * purchased ?

Mr MAHON - That investment has not proved altogether a failure. Some of the cows have perished, but others are thriving. The sheep on the station, in regard to the purchase of which the right honorable member was so dubious, are also doing very well.

Sir John FORREST - I said nothing about that.

Mr MAHON - I can produce a statement in the honorable gentleman's own handwriting showing that he was very dubious regarding the purchase of this sheep station.

Sir John Forrest - They wanted us to buy it, but I would not do so.

Mr MAHON - The station was purchased, and it is not the failure that the right honorable member predicted.

Sir John FORREST - The Minister is referring 'to a sheep station that was purchased by our predecessors.

Mr MAHON - And the right honorable gentleman, when Treasurer, wanted to nullify what had been done in that regard by refusing to stock the station with sheep. Coming to £he desire of honorable members that there should be laid down a policy for the settlement of the Territory, is it not idle to talk about a policy until we know where to find the people? Where are we to get the people whom we are to settle in the Northern Territory ? We read almost weekly of 500 or 600 disappointed land seekers in one or other of the States balloting for half-a-dozen blocks. But we do not find any of these people seeking land in the Northern Territory.

Mr Poynton - Because there is no railway communication.

Mr MAHON - Not wholly; rather because of the remoteness, the isolation, of the Territory, and the absence of the advantages of civilization. That is why people who are hungering for land in the more accessible portions of Australia will not settle in the Territory. I shall not say that there is any deterioration in the fibre of the people of to-day j but they certainly do not display the spirit of the pioneers of Australia. If "the people of fifty or sixty years ago had been content only with the selection of choice blocks of land, the Commonwealth would not have been so developed and settled as it is at the present time. The honorable member for Wim- mera suggested that we should obtain from the north "of Italy settlers for the Northern Territory. The problem as to where we are to obtain settlers has haunted me ever since I took office. I confess that I do not know where we are to secure them. I have spoken to people well acquainted with all the little kingdoms of Europe, but have not met with much success. It would be far more acceptable and satisfactory if we could settle the Territory from the rest of Australia; but since Australians, apparently, will not go there while the conditions of life are so severe, where are we to look for people who will be prepared to suffer the hardship, the isolation, and the absence of the conditions of civilization which must be endured there until we get some reasonable settlement? That is the problem which confronts us, and I see no hope of its immediate solution. If Parliament were prepared to vote sufficient to enable us to assist people to emigrate, and to wet-nurse th'em for years, we might make some sort of success of settlement in the Northern Territory. But I was never at any time optimistic in regard to the Territory. I did not vote for the agreement under which the Commonwealth took it over.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - You will have to settle it, you know.

Mr MAHON - Yes. I admit that it is now an Australian obligation, and while I was not averse to the Commonwealth taking over the Territory, I was against taking it over under the conditions under which it was accepted. I recognised from the first that, in dealing adequately and properly with the Northern Territory, we have one of the most perplexing problems which have ever confronted a Government in this world. We have to hold the country, and to settle it : that is beyond the shadow of a doubt. We have to defend the Territory, because that would be the point of attack by an enemy, and the only way in which it can be defended is by having a virile white population settled on the soil. The development of a policy for this country, which has exhausted the ingenuity and ability of other administrators, is not to be achieved in a month or two, or even in a few years. It is a matter which will have to be settled, and this Parliament will have to vote the necessary funds, I think, to bring out people in large num bers, or if it be practicable to do so as soon as the war is over, to induce a number of men of military age who are reluctant to return to the prosaic life of commercialism to go there and settle on the land.

Mr Poynton - Do you not think that that would follow the construction of a railway ? You would not put them there without a railway ?

Mr MAHON - Certainly not. I would not merely put a railway there, but I would give them all the other adjuncts of civilisation - telegraphs, telephones, schools, and everything else which would make them contented settlers. Furthermore, I would give a premium to married men who were prepared to take their wives and children, and make permanent homes in the Territory. One of our common experiences in settling the country is that when single men go there and get a little money together, they grow discontented and return to the more attractive parts of Australia. If a man took his wife and children there, and made a home, we would have some guarantee, and some assurance that he intended to stay in the Territory.

Mr Sampson - Will the Minister explain the action he has taken in respect to the form of municipal government in the Territory?

Mr MAHON - I am obliged to the honorable member for the reminder. My first experience in the Department was being required to deal with the friction which existed between the local council at Darwin and the Administrator and his officials. The local council refused to carry out the necessary sanitary measures which are required in a place like Darwin. It is not a village; it is not like an inland township, where nobody is concerned except those who live there, and those who happen to be passing through. It is a place at which ocean-going steamships frequently call, and persons coming to Australia for the first time necessarily obtained an unfavorable impression iron. the insanitary hovels permitted by the local authority. The requisitions of the Health Officer of the town were continually ignored. It was necessary, therefore, to abolish this body, since it would not do the work it had undertaken to perform. Again, the local council, I found, was proposing to rate all the Government property, and making protests against the Administrator having built on park lands. I found, too, that a comparative handful of persons elected the council, that the majority of the ratepayers at Darwin were absentees, and that the council was the elect of less than a hundred electors, some of whom were Asiatics. In short, the council was an impossible body to work with. Amongst other threats which emanated from this quarter was that the Administrator on his return should be mobbed, and refused a landing at Port Darwin. That threat indicates the frame of mind into which some of the local residents had drifted. Hence I determined that the shortest way with the council would be the best, and that was to abolish it and to establish a council which would be representative of the people. The charter now given Port Darwin enables every adult to vote for the council after a residence of three months. Every adult is also eligible to be a member of the body. I have given to the ratepayers a majority in the council.

Mr Mcwilliams - Does that include the Asiatics?

Mr MAHON - No Asiatics, except those who already have the franchise, are to be allowed to vote. As the Government is now the largest property holder at Darwin, and will pay most of the rates, I decided that the Administrator should have power to nominate two out of the five councillors.

Mr Mcwilliams - Is it a nominee body?

Mr MAHON - It is a partially nominee body, but) the other members will be elected on the most democratic franchise ever proposed for a municipal body. There was a good deal of dissatisfaction at first in connexion with my proposals, but. now that they are better understood, I think they are being more generally accepted by the people.

Mr Sampson - Has the Administrator indicated the conditions to the residents at Darwin ?

Mr MAHON - I think that they must be fully informed of the position, because the whole matter was settled before Dr. Gilruth left Melbourne. In regard to

Papua, the honorable member for Wentworth said that, because we were not able, in a few months, to track down some person who had murdered a man, that was evidence of laxity in the Administration. It is quite a familiar thing, even in highly-civilized countries where there are ample police and detectives, that murderers escape altogether.

Mr Wise - We have several cases in Victoria.

Mr MAHON - In Papua there was only one white policeman when I was there, and even he may have disappeared. It is quite common for crimes to be undetected, and I think that the honorable member for Wentworth must have been listening to some of the discontented people who are to be found in all small settlements.

Mr Mcwilliams - Was not his complaint rather as to the lapse of trial after the man had been captured ?

Mr MAHON - That comes to the same thing. We cannot try alleged murderers until we have found witnesses who are capable of testifying to the crimes. I do not think that there is very much in the complaint of the honorable member for Wentworth. With regard to natives applying to the Government to sell their land, I understand that it is most unusual for natives to approach the Government at all. It is the other way about: the Government must approach the natives in order to induce them to sell the land. However, there is no information in the Department about the matter of which the honorable member complained. At a later stage I shall be glad to offer any further explanation which may be required in reference to any other portion of the Estimates.

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